One analogy that has developed in my head and heart recently is the notion that reading the Baha’i Writings can be analogous to watering the garden of our soul. This article was inspired by Haylee Navidi’s insightful post on farming as an analogy for community building, based on the 29 December 2015 message from the Universal House of Justice and other excerpts from the Writings, as well as recently being charged with the duty of watering a new garden where I live. Like I mean, the green stuff that grows outside. I actually had to water it.
As I started to water this new grass and its corresponding flower beds every morning and evening I started to think and feel that my other daily duty to read the Writings every morning and evening is another watering. It was this similarity that drew me to reflect further and investigate the purpose and method of watering the garden of my soul with the Writings.
Firstly we read in the Most Holy Book:
Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide.1
I continually strive for greater “eagerness and love” as a “prime requisite”2 to my daily practice of reading and reflecting on the Holy verses of God, an act that centres and grounds my being. So in the most simple yet profound way this is the water the garden of my soul needs to survive, to bloom and blossom. Baha’u’llah clearly states the way recitation of these verses of God must be said and how they shall over time exercise an influence upon the soul:
Intone, O My servant, the verses of God that have been received by thee, as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him, that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul, and attract the hearts of all men. Whoso reciteth, in the privacy of his chamber, the verses revealed by God, the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by his mouth, and shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb. Though he may, at first, remain unaware of its effect, yet the virtue of the grace vouchsafed unto him must needs sooner or later exercise its influence upon his soul.3
In the most striking way Abdu’l-Baha links the idea of water to the elevation of the soul and describes the way in which this water will spread like wildfire to illuminate one’s being with the love of God thereby inspiring our actions and making clear for us the Heavenly Realities.
Water is the cause of life, and when Christ speaks of water, He is symbolizing that which is the cause of Everlasting Life.
This life-giving water of which He speaks is like unto fire, for it is none other than the Love of God, and this love means life to our souls.
By the fire of the Love of God the veil is burnt which separates us from the Heavenly Realities, and with clear vision we are enabled to struggle onward and upward, ever progressing in the paths of virtue and holiness, and becoming the means of light to the world.4
Abdu’l-Baha also describes the ardent desire of those early believers and their absolute wish to be in the presence of Baha’u’llah. He described one of them as being; “Like a fish on the sand, he struggled to reach the water of life.”5 For those faithful friends, being in the presence of the Blessed Beauty was as the water of life, it was life itself. Then for us, isn’t being immersed in the Ocean of Utterances the closest we can get to this Life-Force? Wouldn’t we die to give ourselves the appropriate watering for our souls? Then we must water every morn and eventide with the uplifting, inspiring and purpose-filled water to our soul. It allows us to rise beyond the dross of this world, to become as those early believers were.
In yet another way, we can think of our reading the Writings as a call to action, an expression of life, our soul’s desire to be in the world. We turn to Abdu’l-Baha and His guidance on the required way of watering:
Remembrance of God is like the rain and dew which bestow freshness and grace on flowers and hyacinths, revive them and cause them to acquire fragrance, redolence and renewed charm. “And thou hast seen the earth dried up and barren: but when We send down the rain upon it, it stirreth and swelleth, and groweth every kind of luxuriant herb.” Strive thou, then, to praise and glorify God by night and by day, that thou mayest attain infinite freshness and beauty.6
The Universal House of Justice has also stated on several occasions the power of reading and reflecting on the Writings. It states:
It would be highly desirable for every believer to have easy access to at least a compilation of this type in a language he can understand, and it is sincerely hoped that by the reading of the Sacred Texts and the exposure of the believer’s soul to their influence, his spiritual growth will be stimulated. He will thereby not only increase his own spiritual joy and understanding, but also contribute to the consolidation of the entire community.7
In yet another outstanding instance the Universal House of Justice ties together the inseparability of progress of the individual and society with the reading of the Sacred Text as a pivotal feature of any initiative for progress. It explores the historical context, and then lights the way forward for a bewildered humanity, through continued study and reflection, action and refinement of all our endeavours.
In paragraph 9 from the 2010 Ridvan Message, the Universal House of Justice writes:
[…] local deepening classes, winter and summer schools, and specially arranged gatherings in which individual believers knowledgeable in the writings were able to share with others insights into specific subjects emerged naturally as prominent features of Baha’i life. Just as the habit of daily reading will remain an integral part of Baha’i identity, so will these forms of study continue to hold a place in the collective life of the community. But understanding the implications of the Revelation, both in terms of individual growth and social progress, increases manifold when study and service are joined and carried out concurrently. There, in the field of service, knowledge is tested, questions arise out of practice, and new levels of understanding are achieved.8
Isn’t then the ultimate yield of this watering the blooming of the garden of our soul; isn’t the ultimate aim to fill the world with a glimpse of the Blessed Beauty through our actions, to become those spiritually distinguished people of Baha in the communities we inhabit?
So then, how is your garden going? What needs doing? What needs maintaining? What needs focus? Whatever it is your garden needs, we can definitely say watering is one of those essential elements for any prosperous garden.
- Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 73 [↩]
- Ibid. Notes [↩]
- Baha’i Prayers: A Selection of Prayers Revealed by Baha’u’llah, the Bab, and Abdu’l-Baha, p. iv [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 82 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, p. 150 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, The Importance of Prayer, Meditation and Devotional Attitude [↩]
- Universal House of Justice, 17 April 1981 Letter to all National Spiritual Assemblies [↩]
- Universal House of Justice, 2010 Ridvan Message [↩]